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Cantatas for Soprano
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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) The Creation Hob. XXI:2 (1799)
Ida Falk Winland (soprano – Gabriel/Eve); Andrew Staples (tenor
– Uriel); David Stout (bass – Raphael); Robert Davies (bass-
Musica Saeculorum/Philipp von Steinaecker
rec. live 12 September 2012, Dom zu Brixen, Austria. DDD
Sung in English
English text & German translation included (CD) FRA BERNARDO FB1701429 [DVD: 108:00] FB1301272 [CD: 53:40 + 48:37]
This performance has been available on CD since 2014 but has not previously been reviewed on MusicWeb International. It has now been issued on DVD, which gives the opportunity to review both formats.
The DVD does not come with a booklet nor is the usual information about such things as picture resolution or sound printed on the back of the case. Having been unsuccessful at sourcing this information on line I’m afraid that all I can tell you is that the full-screen picture is in colour. The work is sung in English and there don’t appear to be any subtitles. The picture quality is good: this is a pleasingly unfussy film of a concert performance.
In commenting on the sound quality I should explain that I don’t have my TV connected to my hi-fi system; I have a Bose soundbar. The DVD arrived first and I found the sound satisfactory but I got much better results when I played the audio channel of the DVD through my hi-fi using my Marantz universal player. When the CDs arrived I used the Marantz machine to play them also, for the sake of consistency, and I obtained very good results. I should say, though, that the better sound reproduction confirmed what a resonant acoustic there is in Brixen Cathedral. I noticed that almost at once in the way the sec chords echo towards the end of the ‘Representation of Chaos’. The resonance is not detrimental to the performance, however. The soloists are clearly heard, though I found Robert Davies’ voice didn’t come across quite as well as those of his colleagues when I was watching the film: on CD he is clearly heard. The balance between choir and orchestra rather favours the instruments, mainly when the band is playing loudly. I wonder if it might have been a good idea to use a slightly larger choir. I found one problem with the DVD in that the sound is slightly unsynchronised with the pictures; thus you are aware sometimes that the movements of the soloists’ lips are not quite precisely aligned with the words you’re hearing them articulate. That’s a small irritation.
The performance has a great deal to commend it. The musicians of Musica Saeculorum, an ensemble based in South Tyrol, play on period instruments. The members of the orchestra are drawn from a number of period instrument ensembles and modern instrument orchestras including the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. They deliver a very stylish account of Haydn’s miraculous orchestration, beginning with a terrific account of the highly individual overture, the ‘Representation of Chaos’. Thereafter the colours and highly imaginative sonorities of Haydn’s score come through vividly and expertly; the accompaniments to the arias are marvellous and ideally flexible. Special praise is due to the woodwind choir. Haydn uses them with enormous imagination and the players clearly welcome the opportunities they get. The principal flute, Chiara Tonelli, is simply wonderful in ‘On mighty pens’. I relished the orchestral contributions from start to finish.
The choir consists of just 22 singers (7/5/5/5). They stand in two rows behind the orchestra. They’re an expert group – I recognise several names from the crack British chamber choirs – and so the choral contribution is excellent and highly disciplined. My only concern is that I would have liked the sound of the choir to be a bit more prominent in relation to the orchestra, especially on the DVD. Maybe the size of the choir was slightly misjudged – after all, Haydn used a pretty large orchestra. More likely, I think, is that the resonance of the acoustic in Brixen Cathedral has swallowed up some of the choral sound. I found that the choir is heard to best advantage on the CD and there’s no doubting either their expertise or their commitment. Haydn gives his choir some magnificent music to sing and these performers grasp the opportunities eagerly.
The soloists are very fine. The Swedish soprano, Ida Falk Winland is the only non-Anglophone among them but, like so many northern Europeans, her English is well-nigh flawless. She has just the right voice for this work: her soprano is bright, pure and clearly focussed. In Parts I and II she sings Gabriel’s arias extremely well. Her gleaming tone is most persuasive in ‘In verdure clad’ while the highly decorated line in ‘On mighty pens’ is clear as a bell. Later, in Part III she’s a charming Eve.
I last heard David Stout in a very different context: John Joubert’s Jane Eyre (review). I admired then both his singing and his characterisation and he’s no less admirable here. He’s imaginative in the way he delivers his recitatives – as, indeed, are his colleagues – and the arias are all very well done. The start of ‘Rolling in foaming billows’ has great presence but later in that aria I really like the way he relaxes at ‘Softly purling’. He’s vivid in characterising the creation of various animals in ‘Straight opening her fertile womb’ and hereabouts the orchestral sallies that illustrate the individual fauna are colourfully done. The aria that follows, ‘Now heaven in fullest glory shone’ is noble and commanding.
It’s not uncommon to have the luxury of different soprano and bass soloists for the roles of Eve and Adam in Part III but on this occasion, rather surprisingly, we get a different bass, Robert Davies, though Ida Falk Winland continues in the soprano role. I don’t know why the change was made. It may be that it was thought that the part of Adam, which is perhaps a bit higher-lying, would be better suited to Davies’ voice though I didn’t detect anything wrong with David Stout’s high register. Anyway, Davies sings very well. The part of Adam doesn’t require as high a degree of characterisation as does the part of Raphael. What is needed, ideally, is a suave, elegant singer and Davies is absolutely right for the part. On the DVD I thought he seemed a little reticent but that must have been down to the equipment I was using because on the CD he’s an ideal partner for Eve and vocally very well balanced with the soprano. Their ‘Graceful consort’ duet is a courtly delight
Andrew Staples is in fine form as Uriel; he is another soloist whose voice seems ideally suited to Haydn’s music. His timbre is light and pleasing though there’s plenty of steel in the tone when needed. ‘In splendour bright’ has a clarion ring but later in this highly atmospheric recitative he offers a wonderful contrast at ‘With softer beam’; here his legato is expertly controlled. His light, easy tone is ideal for ‘In native worth’ and he makes a very fine showing in ‘In rosy mantle’, which he sings most expressively
Philipp von Steinaecker conducts the oratorio very convincingly. His tempi seem to me to be judiciously chosen. The fast music is always sprightly but never rushed off its feet while Steinaecker unfailingly allows Haydn’s many lyrical passages just the right amount of space. There’s plenty of energy in the performance but, above all, it’s a smiling performance – on several occasions, for example, I could see from their facial expressions that the soloists were enjoying themselves. This is such a happy, witty and good-natured score and that’s how it comes across here.
The performance took place in the Cathedral at Brixen in the South Tyrol. As I commented earlier the acoustic is somewhat resonant – you can really hear the echo after some of the loud chords – but overall the engineers have mastered the acoustic well and, despite my reservation about the choir sounding a little backward, the sound is good. Much will depend, I think, on the equipment you have available. If you have your TV set up through your hi-fi then I think you should get very good sonic results from the DVD. If, like me, your hi-fi is restricted to audio then the CDs will give you the most satisfying results, I think, and will do proper justice to this excellent performance.
The DVD comes with no documentation whatsoever. The CDs come with a proper booklet in German and English.
The Creation is a miraculous score. We live in troubled times but this oratorio reminds us that there is another side to life. I came away from this very enjoyable performance with my spirits lifted.
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